The potentially deleterious effects of children's exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) have been well documented and include both externalizing and internalizing problems as well as compromised socioemotional functioning. Recent research suggests that concomitant exposure to animal abuse may occur in families with pets and who have experienced IPV. To our knowledge, no study has compared the mental health correlates of a) exposure to IPV coupled with exposure to animal abuse with b) exposure to IPV absent exposure to animal abuse. We hypothesize, based on social learning, attachment, and empathy development theories, that concomitant exposure to animal abuse may provide children an additional model of antisocial behavior, increase their emotional distress if the animal abuse to which they have been exposed involves pets to which children are emotionally attached, and may affect personal distress and empathy. Using a prospective design, we will assess levels of IPV and the presence or absence of threatened or actual harm of pets and relate these variables to children's behavior problems, including their perpetration of animal abuse. We will use state-of-the- art assessment instruments, a number of which have yet to be used in clinical samples of children. We will also include exploratory analyses of the relation between children's perpetration of animal abuse and their levels of empathy, callous and unemotional traits, and attachment to pet animals. Greater focus on exposure to IPV and animal abuse may enhance our understanding of the processes implicated in the effects of exposure to violence generally and illustrate how addressing human-animal relationships in childhood could inform therapeutic interventions.

Public Health Relevance

Our study will provide a better understanding of potential mental health problems in children (7- to 12-year- olds) associated with living in a home with intimate partner violence as well as abuse of pet animals. Children's attachments to their pets may be an important buffer in circumstances of family distress. When their pets are threatened or harmed, children's coping ability may be compromised.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZHD1-DSR-H (30))
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Esposito, Layla E
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University of Denver
Schools of Social Work
United States
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Collins, Elizabeth A; Cody, Anna M; McDonald, Shelby Elaine et al. (2018) A Template Analysis of Intimate Partner Violence Survivors' Experiences of Animal Maltreatment: Implications for Safety Planning and Intervention. Violence Against Women 24:452-476
McDonald, Shelby Elaine; Ma, Lin; Green, Kathy E et al. (2018) Evaluation of the Parent-Report Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits in a Sample of Children Recruited from Intimate Partner Violence Services: A Multidimensional Rasch Analysis. J Clin Psychol 74:418-441
Corona, Rosalie; Rodríguez, Vivian M; McDonald, Shelby E et al. (2017) Associations between Cultural Stressors, Cultural Values, and Latina/o College Students' Mental Health. J Youth Adolesc 46:63-77
McDonald, Shelby Elaine; Dmitrieva, Julia; Shin, Sunny et al. (2017) The role of callous/unemotional traits in mediating the association between animal abuse exposure and behavior problems among children exposed to intimate partner violence. Child Abuse Negl 72:421-432
McDonald, Shelby Elaine; Collins, Elizabeth A; Maternick, Anna et al. (2017) Intimate Partner Violence Survivors' Reports of Their Children's Exposure to Companion Animal Maltreatment: A Qualitative Study. J Interpers Violence :886260516689775
McDonald, Shelby Elaine; Shin, Sunny; Corona, Rosalie et al. (2016) Children exposed to intimate partner violence: Identifying differential effects of family environment on children's trauma and psychopathology symptoms through regression mixture models. Child Abuse Negl 58:1-11
McDonald, Shelby Elaine; Collins, Elizabeth A; Nicotera, Nicole et al. (2015) Children's experiences of companion animal maltreatment in households characterized by intimate partner violence. Child Abuse Negl 50:116-27
Wiegand, Douglas M; Hanowski, Richard J; McDonald, Shelby E (2009) Commercial drivers' health: a naturalistic study of body mass index, fatigue, and involvement in safety-critical events. Traffic Inj Prev 10:573-9